February 2, 2015

AAWRE founding Diplomate, Dr. Richard Harry French, of Henderson, Nevada, passed away this past December 8.  Richard was inducted into the AAWRE as a Diplomate by eminence at the inaugural AAWRE ceremony in 2005 and was a founding member of the ASCE's Environmental & Water Resources Institute (EWRI).  Richard was an active member of both ASCE and EWRI, as he chaired several key program and technical committees- serving on the executive committee of the Water Resources Engineering Division (1997-1999, before it formed into EWRI), as vice chair of the EWRI Awards Committee (2000-2002), chair of the Hydraulics and Waterways Council (1999-2000), and as chair of the Hydraulics and Waterways Council Awards Committee (2000-2002).

Richard served as chair of the Nominating Committee for ASCE Arid Lands Hydraulic Engineering Award (1993-95), the ASCE International Symposium on Hydraulics-Hydrology of Arid Lands (1990), ASCE Hydraulics Division Task Committee on Flood Hazard Analysis on Alluvial Fans (1987-1990), and as a member of the ASCE Hydraulics Division Committee on Surface Water Hydrology (1983-94), ASCE Hydraulics Division Task Committee on Manual 54 Revision ( 1993-94), ASCE Hydraulics Division Research Committee (1993-94), ASCE Task Committee on Research Advocacy for Hydraulic Engineering (1993-1994), and ASCE Environmental Engineering Division Task Committee on Receiving Water Quality Assessment (1983-1985).

Dr. French had a distinguished career in civil engineering.  Richard was well known for his hydraulics and hydrology in semi-arid lands.  He authored several books and numerous technical papers that contributed to the advancement of the field of hydraulics.  Richard’s pioneering work contributed significantly to the understanding of the alluvial fan hydraulics and associated risk of flooding.  He was also known for his insight and views on frequency and risk in surface flooding and semi-arid lands.  

Richard was born in Wheeling, West Virginia to Clyde and Florence French.  After graduating from Chillicothe High School in Chillicothe, Ohio, he attended The Ohio State University’s College of Engineering where he graduated Summa Cum Laude in 1971 with a Bachelor of Civil Engineering degree.  He continued on to achieve his Masters in Civil Engineering at Ohio State where he graduated in 1972.  He then went to the University of California-Berkeley College of Engineering where he graduated in 1975 with a Ph.D. in civil engineering.  Richard began his career as an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University School of Engineering in Nashville, TN.  In 1979, he transitioned to the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Las Vegas, NV as Associate Research Professor where he remained until 2004, when he was granted Professor Emeritus. 

During his career, over 20 years at DRI, Richard served as president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Nevada Section, 1989-1990; DRI Faculty Senate representative 1995-1996; Founding Member, Environmental & Water Resources Institute of ASCE, 1999.  He was author to several technical books on arid land hydrology, alluvial fan hydraulics and open-channel hydraulics that are used in classrooms today.  Dr. French received numerous engineering awards for his outstanding contributions in water resources.  His career encompassed a distinguished teaching, research, and mentoring to numerous students and graduates.

Richard was also involved in other professional societies such as working on the Research Specialty Committee on Hydraulics, Structures Advisory Council for the Federal Highway Administration, 1990- and member of the International Association for Hydraulic Research (IAHR), American Water Resources Association (AWRA).  Richard also was a reviewer of the ASCE Journal of Hydraulic Engineering, the ASCE Journal of Environmental Engineering and for the National Science Foundation.

Among his awards was the ASCE Arid Lands Hydraulic Engineering Award, 1991; DRI’s Dandini Medal, 1996; and Outstanding Civil Engineer Alumni Award, Ohio State University, 2004.  He was a Registered Professional Engineer in Nevada, California and Arizona.  He retired from DRI and accepted a tenured professorship at University of Texas in San Antonio, Texas in Civil and Environmental Engineering where he remained until 2012 when he retired for a second time and returned to Las Vegas.  He is survived by his wife, Darlene of 40 years. 

AAWRE founder Dr. Bill Espey stated:

“Dr. Richard French had a long and distinguished career in civil engineering.  He specifically was well known for his hydraulics and hydrology in semi-arid lands.  His pioneering work contributed significantly to the understanding of the alluvial fan hydraulics and associated risk of flooding.  He was also known for his insight and views on frequency and risk in surface flooding and semi-arid lands and he received numerous engineering awards for his outstanding contributions with regards to water resources.  The engineering profession will miss him.”

AAWRE founding President Dr. Jeff Bradley reflected:

“I first met Dick French in the mid-1980s through ASCE Hydraulic Division Committee work.  We later worked together on a number of ASCE technical committees and Dick was on the old Water Resources Engineering Division EXCOM when I was chair.  We continued ASCE collaboration for many years in both those Divisions and then in the Environmental and Water Resources Institute of ASCE (EWRI). 

Dick was considered both a national and international expert in alluvial fans and arid lands hydrology.  He was a recipient of the ASCE Arid Lands Hydraulic Engineering Award and the University of Nevada’s Desert Research Institute Dandini Medal.  He authored numerous publications in hydrology and hydraulics, as well as several textbooks on arid land hydrology, alluvial fan hydraulics and open channel hydraulics.  I think one of Dick’s greatest technical contributions was his support of ASCE Manual 110, the Sedimentation Manual. 

Dick was on the original Task Committee, wrote a chapter of the Manual with Marcelo Garcia, Robert MacArthur and Julianne Miller, and later served as one of a four member Blue Ribbon Editorial Panel including Dr. Pierre Julien, Dr. Rollin Hotchkiss and myself.  Besides the editor of the manual, Dr. Marcelo Garcia, I think even though others were involved for decades with this project, I believe Dick deserves a great deal of the credit for getting this monumental work completed.

Dick was the ultimate “curmudgeon” and would always tell you what he thought.  If it was face to face you never felt that the discussion was anything but professional, but if you were on the short end of one of his rather blunt emails which were very short and to the point you might have felt differently!  I greatly enjoyed interacting with Dick and will miss him.”

DRI president, Dr. Stephen Wells addressed colleagues at the DRI in a letter:

"I had the pleasure of working with Dick on several projects and I respected his scientific contributions as one of DRI's leading scientists.  Dick will be greatly missed and our sincere condolences to his family and friends."

EWRI Past-President, Dr. Rollin Hotchkiss reflected:

"I remember very well when I met Dick French.  I was a young professor at the time looking for wisdom about teaching hydraulics.  I couldn’t really believe that I was talking to a person who wrote a textbook that I really liked.  I was surprised at how our conversation ensued.  Dick treated me like an absolute equal and peer and showed interest in what I was working on at the time.  I felt instantly elevated in my fledgling career by that act of sincere interest.  Dick was always so welcoming and inclusive over the years that I knew him.  It was a great lesson for me that I have tried to repeat with other colleagues, some as new as I was at the time.  Dick made me feel welcome into the family of educators and researchers in hydraulics.  I’m grateful for that."

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